Mugabe's travels worrying

HARARE - President Robert Mugabe is in the Far East in the latest in a series of whirlwind international trips, raising questions about what the 89-year-old leader seeks to achieve with this gruelling diplomatic schedule.

He is visiting Japan to attend the fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (Ticad), and flew out hardly a day after landing from Addis Ababa for a two-day summit of the 54-member bloc on Monday that also coincided with the African Union’s 50th anniversary.

Mugabe, who faces the strongest challenge yet to his 33-year rule from Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the mainstream MDC in forthcoming presidential elections, has come under attack for his frequent trips outside the country.

Since March, he has escalated his globe-trotting and visited Italy for the inauguration of Pope Francis in Rome, has been to Kenya for the inauguration ceremony of Uhuru Kenyatta as Kenya’s fourth president, travelled to Uganda  and frequented South Africa at least three times.

In his series of African and overseas trips, Mugabe is taking with him dozens of hangers-on.

The costs of the trips — borne by taxpayers — are difficult to measure, but they are expensive amid indications he gobbles up millions of dollars per trip.

Benefits also are hard to gauge.

Despite his globe-trotting, Mugabe remains a giant of the independence movement whose victory 33 years ago against white-minority rule in the former Rhodesia was a model and inspiration for many of its neighbours.

The octogenarian’s seven terms in office have been marked by constant trips to all corners of the world, except the North Atlantic bloc that has imposed travel and financial sanctions against his regime.

His  travels are taking him to meetings near and far, and the Asian meeting — co-hosted by the government of Japan, the African Union Commission, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank — will tackle ways of keeping Africa’s current economic growth stable and extend the benefits of the development to all spheres of society.

Mugabe’s tour — with stops in Hong Kong — could help him look presidential and well-informed in global affairs.

He is not showing any signs of slowing down despite advanced age and failing health.

Mugabe, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, has been the subject of constant local and foreign media speculation over his health in the past decade.

He has dismissed talk that his health is failing.

Finance minister Tendai Biti has consistently lamented high budget overruns on foreign travel, and has said the GNU principals and Cabinet have blown millions, raising the government’s total recurrent expenditure.  

The three principals, Mugabe, PM Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara are all collectively blowing millions on travel alone.

Critics however, say it is Mugabe’s frequent foreign trips that are draining the already depleted public coffers.

“He has no mercy for his country,” said Kurauone Chihwayi, spokesperson for Welshman Ncube’s MDC.
“At a time when we are crying for election funds, at a time we are facing famine, at a time we are begging for food from neighbouring countries, anochinjanisa ndege paAirport.”

Luke Tamborinyoka, spokesperson for Tsvangirai said: “We will not comment on Mugabe’s globe-trotting.”

Presidential challenger Tendai Munyanduri of the opposition Progressive and Innovative Movement of Zimbabwe (Pimz) said Mugabe’s globe-trotting was not benefiting the nation.

“All these presidential entourages are non-value adding because they should translate into national prosperity,” Munyanduri told the Daily News.

“The international visits are chewing millions and should be used for bench-marking our knowledge and skills transfer, and then they can be of value.” - Gift Phiri, Political Editor

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